Monument marking end of slavery replaces Robert E. Lee statue in Virginia

Two weeks after a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was removed from Virginia’s capital city, a monument commemorating the abolition of slavery has risen in its place.

The Emancipation and Freedom memorial was unveiled Wednesday at a dedication ceremony in Richmond, less than 2 miles from the site where the 12-ton, 40-foot-tall statue of Lee stood for 133 years.

The new monument features two 12-foot bronze statues of freed slaves — one of a shirtless man with chains falling from his wrists, and the other of a woman holding an infant in one arm while holding an emancipation document high over her head.

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The woman stands on a pedestal where the names and biographies of 10 historic Black Virginians are inscribed, including Nat Turner, William Harvey Carney and Dred Scott, all slaves whose actions became legendary in the fight for freedom.

“The enslaved built this city with their hands,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said at the ceremony, according to Reuters. “We will rebuild this city with our hearts.”

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The monument was designed by Oregon sculptor Thomas Jay Warren, according to Reuters.

Lee’s statue was taken down Sept. 8, prompted by nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that erupted last year over the police killing of George Floyd.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who ordered the removal of the Lee memorial in June 2020, gave solemn words at Wednesday’s ceremony, saying: “Just a couple of weeks ago, one of my proudest days, we took down a statue of a man who led an army to stop the emancipation and freedom these figures symbolize.”

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The unceremonious removal of Lee’s statue was notable because Richmond was the capital city of the Confederacy until the end of the Civil War. Another statue of Lee was also removed from the U.S. Capitol just weeks before the Jan. 6 riot in the nation’s capital.

“Our public memorials are symbols of who we are and what we value,” Northam said Wednesday.

More than 160 Civil War relics, Confederate statues and monuments to slavery were toppled in many cities across the country in 2020, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but hundreds more remain. Still, statues of Lee and other confederates, which have long been viewed as symbols of white supremacy and offensive to Black Americans, continue to be dismantled as the nation reckons with its racist past.

South Carolina Confederate monument protection law upheld

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a state law preventing anyone from moving a Confederate monument or changing the historical name of a street or building without the Legislature's permission is legal.

But in the same ruling, the justices struck down a requirement that two-thirds of the General Assembly must approve a move or name change.

The unanimous decision keeps intact South Carolina's Heritage Act, which has stopped colleges and local governments from removing statues honoring Civil War soldiers or segregationists even as other areas of the South took them down after protests sparked by the killing of African American George Floyd last year by white police officers in Minnesota.

- The Associated Press

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